The Kids are (more than) Alright

A new study by Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas, claims to find disadvantages for children raised by same sex parents. The research is attracting criticism from social scientists who say it does not actually address gay and lesbian parenting at all.

The study was funded by two conservative-leaning foundations (surprise, surprise) and concludes that children of same sex couples are more likely than other kids to be on public assistance, unemployed, or in therapy as adults, among other things.  Other experts say the research is deeply flawed.

As the rhetoric surrounding gay marriage gets louder and louder, I’m compelled to speak out about what I’ve seen from my corner of the parenting world.

Let’s start with a common premise that the core purpose of marriage is to create  stable, lasting bonds for the benefit of raising the next generation. I’m not sure I wholeheartedly endorse this position, as I see lots of other reasons to publicly proclaim love for another human being, but for now we’ll accept this oversimplification.

So if marriage exists for the care and feeding of our young, what are the qualities  most critical to getting the job done? What are the must-have requirements for bringing up baby? For some it includes an entire library of child guidance manuals while others are confident winging it with a little advice from Grandma, but let’s get it down to a few basics: what are the non-negotiables?

A deep desire to parent. Few would argue that the desire to raise a child is at the center of what makes the hardest job on the planet worthwhile. You’ve gotta want the littles and adore them in their helpless state to commit the better part of a lifetime to their care.

A sense of responsibility and comittment. When it comes right down to it parenting is sometimes 4 parts hard work (often tedious) to 1 part joy and satisfaction. A strong work ethic makes it less likely you’ll hop the next flight to Belize when the going gets rough and you’re on day 47 of 12AM-4AM colic.

Willingness to do what’s right, not what’s easy. Sometimes you have to say ‘no’, enforce bedtime, set limits to avoid raising a spoiled, self-indulgent brat. You gotta do what you gotta do, not to mention coming home to be Mommy instead of going out to the wine bar with your co-workers.

There are thousands of other requirements, but I’d argue they all fall into one of these categories. That said, let me tell you about a few of the same sex couples I’ve known.

Jack and Nico, both hard working professionals, have been together for 12 years. Eight years ago they began researching adoption, but were turned away by several agencies because they were gay. Through a friend of a friend, they heard about a foster care agency that might accept them and they went through a rigorous screening and training process that didn’t include sexual preference as a deal-breaker.

A few months later, Jack and Nico opened their hearts to little Michael, a 3-month-old who was caught in the crossfire while his mother struggled with drug addiction and mental illness. After Child Protective Services removed the baby, Mom fled to another state and within a few months she was pregnant again. Meanwhile, Michael was thriving with Jack and Nico.

When Michael’s brother was born premature and drug-addicted, he too was removed. A social worker called and asked Jack and Nico if they’d consider taking him so the brothers could be together. There was just one glitch: new baby Marco was born out-of-state and couldn’t be moved under the rules of the Juvenile Court. Marco would need to go to a local foster home until legal roadblocks were overcome and he could cross state lines — a process that could take several months.

Instead of letting little Marco move into a temporary home and then move again to join his big brother — a disruption that would only add to the trauma this little guy had been through — Jack and Nico swooped up Michael and moved to be close to Marco for as long as it took, so he could join their family and begin to heal immediately. Three years later they are a happy, healthy forever family, and Michael and Marco have the second chance every child deserves.

Sarah and Shel met shortly after college when both were just starting their careers. They say they knew right away that each was “the one,” and were married a year or so later (they live in Massachusetts, one of six states recognizing gay marriage), with both happy, extended families in attendance.

Even before they married, Sarah and Shel talked about having children. It was one of the central reasons they chose to marry rather than simply live as domestic partners. They researched their options for months, openly discussing the pros and cons. Pregnancy or adoption? Who would carry the baby? How would they choose a sperm donor. Would it be a friend or someone anonymous?

Every decision was thoroughly investigated and made with intent.

In the end they decided to stay private about the method they chose, including whose egg had been fertilized. I have a feeling I know, because little Ali looks just like Sarah, but they’re not saying. Sarah and Shel are among the most intentional parents I’ve known, and they continue to parent as thoughtfully as they conceived.

Cara and Donna never thought they’d have children. Both had built lives focused on professional accomplishment with concerns about love and family a distant second. When they moved in together they agreed that starting a family wasn’t a priority — being happy together was more than enough.

A couple of years passed, and Cara in particular began to feel like something was missing. They had everything they ever wanted, but it felt like they were meant to do more.  Donna agreed that “to those whom much is given, much is expected” and they began to look into adopting a child with special needs.

A year later Josh found his way to them. A 6-month-old who had been shaken so hard that his little brain was bruised and battered, Josh defied the odds and survived. He had a shunt in his brain to drain excess fluid caused by the scar tissue, and his future looked shaky at best, but Cara and Donna were up for the challenge.

Today Josh is an active, precocious (yes, really!) kindergartener. His shunt will be with him forever — a palpable reminder of how far their family has come. The three of them are talking about adopting another baby, and Josh gets to cast the final vote.

All three of these families have what it takes and much more. Each became parents because they truly wanted, maybe even needed to. Chance, serendipity, timing, a moment of passion, sexual preference — none of these had anything to do with it. Parenting with intention: now there’s something to strive for.





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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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